By Lynda L. Jones, editor
Milwaukee Inner-city Congregations Allied for Hope (MICAH) held a summit last week continuing its effort in the ‘11 x 15 Campaign’. ‘11 x 15’ is a short name for a large campaign, the longer name is ‘11 x 15 For a Safer, Healthier, Wisconsin’, and the goal of the campaign is to challenge Wisconsin to reduce the prison popluation from 22,000 to 11,000 by the year 2015.
Last week, MICAH gathered a diverse group of seven leaders in the Milwaukee area to express their support of a campaign. The summit was held at St. Martin de Porres Catholic Church, 3114 N. 2nd St., on Thursday, September 13.
Each speaker explained why they support the reduction of Wisconsin’s prison population and how they believe that the reduction can be accomplished. The following area stakeholders spoke;
Stan Stojkovic, Dean of the Helen Bader School of Social welfare at UW-Milwaukee, Carl Ashley, Milwaukee County Court Judge, former drug treatment court judge, and Chair of Effective Justice Strategy Sub-Committee, PPAC, Bevan Baker, Commissioner of Health for the City of Milwaukee, Lena Taylor, Wisconsin State Senator, Co-Chair of the Joint Finance Committee, Dennis Kuester, retired CEO of M&I Corporation, Patricia Aniakudo, Meta House, Special Projects Manager and William Harrell, Secretary, Table of the Saints, support/advocacy group of former offenders.
As noted above the stakeholders represented various fields and backgrounds, but they are all united behind the campaign. This type of support demonstrates the varied avenues that are affected by large numbers of incarceration.
“Stakeholders in the ‘11 x 15 Campaign’ realize that continuing to invest millions of dollars into prisons does not benefit the commmunity. Research has shown that a large number of prison inmates are suffering from addiction and/or mental illness. Not treating the real problems of the illnesses often lead these individuals on a destructive road and incarceration becomes the next stop for them.” Joseph Elwanger, 11 x 15 Campaign Coordinator stated.
He continued to explain that investments on the front end of this problem, such as making mental health treatment more accessible and also treatment for addiction is a better financial investment than “locking” people up.
This campaign is about creating awareness that the criminal justice system is an expensive failure. It is expensive in terms of money, lives and opportunities that are wasted. It is a failure in that is does not achieve the goals of public safety or of rehabilitation. On the flip side, 11 x 15 communicates that there are alternatives to incarceration that are appropriate for many (not all) of the people that are sent to prison. These alternatives are proven; they are more effective in promoting safety and health; they are more just.
At last week’s summit the stakeholders signed a pledge to work with the goals of 11 x 15, and then audience members were invited as well to sign the pledge.
MICAH will hold more summits associated with the campaign, the next one will be held in November. The Milwaukee Courier will keep the community informed and updated on this campaign, a campaign that this newspaper strongly supports as well.